John J. Collins {Letters, Dec. 9} and Richard L. Vavrick {op-ed, Dec. 10} miss our fundamental point {"DC Police: Trim the Fat," op-ed, Nov. 27}. If the police department and other city agencies are not soon trimmed of their flab, police officers working toward unfunded pensions will be among those most badly hurt.

Beyond this, Mr. Vavrick is inaccurate on several counts.

1. Our figures on police strength did not include the District's 5,000 federal and regional officers. The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department alone had more than twice as many officers per 1,000 citizens as any other big U.S. city. When federal and regional officers also are counted, D.C. police strength is four-to-10 times greater than in any other big American city.

Mr. Vavrick is also wrong in his claim that federal and regional officers are not involved in day-to-day policing here. Every federal or regional officer in Rock Creek Park, on the Mall or the Metro, or in front of an embassy is one less D.C. officer to be posted there. Ask the police chief in Philadelphia whether his day-to-day operations would be affected if separate police forces relieved his officers of the responsibility to patrol his city's subways and parks. Ask the New York police chief how much his department's day-to-day operations would change if his officers didn't have to patrol Central Park or guard United Nations embassies.

Further, contrary to Mr. Vavrick's suggestion, uniformed Secret Service agents rarely remain on their posts while robberies are occurring across the street, because robberies rarely occur when they are around: robbers simply don't do their dirty work across the street from uniformed Secret Service agents. Anybody who wears an official blue suit, gun and badge on the streets of the District is part of day-to-day policing here.

2. Mr. Vavrick wrongly claims that most D.C. police overtime is court related. The ratio in 1989 -- 70 percent patrol related, 30 percent court related -- was precisely the reverse of what Mr. Vavrick experienced. Much of this "patrol-related" overtime has been wasted on street sweeps and arrests of low level drug offenders, which, responsible police officials now admit, had little or no effect on D.C.'s drug problem.

Mr. Vavrick's estimate of where he earned overtime during his 20-year career probably is correct, but during the last several years overtime has skyrocketed as the D.C. police -- like the fire department -- have become unable to accomplish routine operations without it. The $16 million police overtime bill in 1987 was four times as high as had been anticipated. By last spring, police spokesmen were warning citizens to avoid Georgetown because the department had already overspent its overtime budget and could not provide basic police services without more, a threat that resulted in additional overtime money.

Something is wrong when a lavishly funded agency like the D.C. police must rely on overtime to protect the public on heavily traveled streets. One cause of this problem, according to D.C. police we know, is that the police department's fiscal people don't adequately consider operational needs when they distribute overtime across field units. This must be changed: operational commanders rather than accountants must determine when and how "patrol" overtime is to be used.

Court-related overtime -- $7 million all of last year, $7 million in the first quarter of this year -- is also out of hand. By our count, officers who earned six-figure salaries in 1989 -- nearly tripling their base pay -- averaged 100 working hours a week for all 52 weeks. What kind of performance can citizens expect of officers and detectives who put in this much time? How can the police department assure itself that such officers are alert and able to defend themselves on the job?

Certainly court-related overtime should be paid to those who earn it -- but a system that institutionalizes it at such high levels needs fundamental change. By and large, court overtime is a result of antiquated and eccentric court and prosecutorial policies that the police have been unsuccessful in pressing the courts and the U.S. attorney to change. The District is the only large American jurisdiction with no night court or complaint preparation system, no desk appearance ticket system and no squad of police or prosecutorial investigators to help prepare cases for trial. The best way to persuade the courts and the U.S. attorney to adopt these measures is to build public support for the police position on them.

3. Civilianization is no panacea when, as Mr. Vavrick suggests, it involves poorly paid and poorly screened people who receive no training for their jobs and who have no appreciation for the problems of street cops. But this can be corrected by carefully recruiting, screening and training civilian employees and by rewarding them with living wages. Doing this has improved police efficiency and effectiveness in almost every big American city except Washington.

4. The D.C. police have always had problems recruiting and retaining officers. Who would choose to work in the District when police officers in quieter and safer suburbs earn equal or more money? This inequity should be corrected: D.C. officers police the most demanding jurisdiction in this metropolitan area, and they should be paid accordingly. This could easily be done if the Rivlin Commission's recommendations for trimming fat were followed.

D.C. police also should be trained to be the elite of this area's law enforcers, but the D.C. department provides no regular training for anybody but rookies. Putting a rookie in a car with a veteran officer is not "in-service" training. Neither are roll call movie shows. Veteran D.C. cops get no formal training on new problems or programs -- not even concerning crack and related violence or the Community Empowerment Policing Program, around which the whole department reportedly is being reorganized. New sergeants and lieutenants get no supervisory training; new captains, inspectors and deputy chiefs get no management or command training. Incredibly, managers or supervisors are not required to formally evaluate the people who work for them. When such training and evaluation are absent, expertise and efficiency disappear along with the perception among officers that they are involved in a serious professional undertaking.

The bottom line of policing is fielding street officers. For many reasons, some beyond its control, the D.C. police department does this terribly. The Metropolitan Police Department was unable to tell our researchers how many of these days were spent doing real police work on the street, but our investigation suggests that the number is pitifully small.

Anyone who doubts this should take a walk around the District and try to find a cop on the beat. If you're lucky enough to run into one -- who is not a federal or regional officer -- ask how many officers at his or her roll call actually came out on patrol. Multiply the answer by seven (the number of D.C. patrol districts), and you'll get some idea of how many of D.C.'s 4,800 officers actually are patrolling the streets and answering calls for service at any one time. It's not many.

Again, D.C. police officers are good and brave people -- but their department is inefficient and out of date. It's time for a change.

James J. Fyfe, a professor of justice in American University's School of Public Affairs, was a New York City police lieutenant. Patrick V. Murphy, director of the United States Conference of Mayors Police Advisory Board, was a police chief executive in Syracuse, Washington, D.C., Detroit and New York City. Both served on the Rivlin Commission.